Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


Every manager needs to understand why people behave the way they do and how they can be motivated to excel in their jobs at all times.  One of the best-known and most influential theories on human psychology, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, explains how people can be motivated based on their personal needs.


Before Maslow, the scientific community in the field of psychology was deeply immersed in unravelling dysfunctional personalities. Maslow left the bandwagon and focused on understanding the psychology of healthy and successful people.  The result is his theory on what motivates a person to achieve something. Elegantly packaged as a hierarchy of needs, this contribution of his to the science of human behavior has had tremendous impact on how businesses are run ever since. In fact, in the semiconductor industry, every supervisor is expected to know Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.    


Maslow believed that the actions of people can not be dictated merely by the forces of mechanical conditioning, which uses stimuli and reinforcement to shape human behavior. Nor are they subconsciously controlled by instincts or impulses as most psychoanalysts then would say.  Instead, Maslow proposed that people are aware of their human potential, and will do their best to reach the highest levels of human creativity and wisdom under the proper environment, i.e., an environment where their lower or basic needs are satisfied


According to Maslow's theory, people inherently have basic needs to fulfill, which can be classified into five (5) different levels.  These levels are arranged in ascending order, forming a hierarchy that defines which level has to be satisfied by an individual first before aspiring for the next level. Figure 1 shows Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.


Figure 1. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


The first level of the hierarchy, biological needs, consist of the physiological requirements of a person to stay alive, such as air, food, and water.  These are the most basic and strongest needs in the hierarchy because if a person is deprived of any of these, the person will die.


Safety needs constitute the second level of the hierarchy.  Once the biological needs of a person are satisfied, the person starts thinking about the need to be safe and secure from external threats.  Unlike children, adults do not  generally express this need, except in times of emergency or social turmoil.


A person who does know he or she can subsist and feel safe would want to experience the third level of the hierarchy of needs - the need for love, affection, and acceptance by other people.  This person, in fact, would also want to love, care for, and show acceptance of other people.


Once the first three (3) levels of needs are satisfied, a person would start seeking self-esteem, the fourth level of the hierarchy.  Not everyone who feels loved feels that he or she is respected. People need to feel worthy and valuable to others in order to feel genuine self-respect. Without self-esteem, a person would feel that he can not do 'enough' good for others, and ultimately for himself too, and ends up lacking the confidence for him to reach out for higher goals.      


Self-actualization, the fifth and highest level in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, is also the most difficult to achieve.  Maslow regards self-actualization as an ever-ongoing process.  Whereas the things or experiences that can satisfy the needs in the first four levels are easy to identify, self actualization needs a deep introspection on the part of the person before he or she would know how to satisfy it.  Self-actualization is being able to do something that makes your life complete, be it a vocation, a calling, or support for a cause.  Without self-actualization, the voyage towards full satisfaction is never complete.


Knowing what a person is looking for and giving him or her the opportunity to get it is important in keeping people motivated.  Thus, retaining an employee's loyalty does not always require an increase in his or her material compensation.  Sometimes, all it takes is making the person feel accepted by the group, or boosting his or her self-esteem, depending on where the person is as far as the hierarchy of needs is concerned.


Maslow recommends the following steps to achieve personal growth and, hopefully, self-actualization: 1) be authentic and aware of your own inner feelings; 2) transcend your cultural conditioning and be a citizen of the 'world'; 3) help yourself discover your true vocation in life; and 4) teach yourself to realize that life is precious and worth living, and that there are joys to be experienced in life.  


See Also:   Knowledge Management Learning Organization




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